Most people would categorise an advertising agency or design consultancy as being part of the ‘creative industry’. For these types of business it is certainly true that creativity is an important skill, if not the most important skill.
Yet, for any business to survive and thrive, whatever field they are in, creativity is a vital part of the company’s skill-set and it is becoming ever more important.
What is creativity?
The term creativity is used in a broad range of circumstances but a definition that is all-encompassing is hard to find.
Below are a few examples:
’The use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness.’
– Oxford English Dictionary
‘The ability to produce original and unusual ideas, or to make something new or imaginative.’
– Cambridge English Dictionary
‘Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new and somehow valuable is formed. The created item may be intangible or a physical object.’
Perhaps a better description comes from Linda Naiman, founder of www.creativityatwork.com:
‘Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Creativity is characterised by the ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and to generate solutions. Creativity involves two processes: thinking, then producing.’
And Bill Bernbach, co-founder of advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach, had this to say about creativity:
‘An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it.’
At Publicity Services, we believe that creativity is not just about having ideas but being able to carry them through into something tangible.
Why is creativity in business important?
Creativity is the driving force behind the success of many businesses, ours included.
Top brands such as Apple, Facebook, Google, Virgin, Pixar are all highly successful because of their creativity and they have to keep innovating to stay ahead of today’s fast changing markets.
Creativity in all aspects of your business will differentiate your company from your competitors.
Blockbuster, Kodak, Toys’R’Us and Polaroid are just a few major global companies that have failed because they didn’t continue to innovate and keep up with the market, let alone stay ahead.
How do you foster and encourage creativity?
‘Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working’
– Pablo Picasso.
‘We must always work, and a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood. If we wait for the mood, without endeavoring to meet it half-way, we easily become indolent and apathetic. We must be patient, and believe that inspiration will come to those who can master their disinclination.’
– Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
As with many skills, a significant part of developing creativity is ‘showing up’.
So, in business, how can creativity be fostered and encouraged?
Below, in no particular order, are some suggestions:
- Reward creativity
Not all ideas can be turned into successes, but if your company always plays it safe, new and workable solutions will never emerge. If you reward creativity you will inspire employees to develop and try new ideas.
Rewards can be tangible, in the form of bonuses, reward systems, time off or more flexibility. They could also be less tangible in the form of recognition, more responsibility or more autonomy.
It is important that a flow of ideas, whether good or bad is rewarded not just for ideas that do work.
- Hire a diverse range of people
To foster creativity and get more creative results you need a team with different skills, strengths, interests and experiences. A team that will have different opinions and where healthy debate is encouraged, without getting emotional or personal, will be more creative.
- Try the ‘yes, and…’ approach (agree and then build on idea – no is not an option)
Instead of saying but (…we don’t have the resources, …we don’t do things that way here) try saying ‘and’. You don’t have to agree, you do have to affirm. Try using ‘yes, and’ during creative sessions and see what happens.
- Try flexible working hours and locations
The best ideas can often come when doing something else – showering, shaving, washing-up or running. There is also a body of evidence to suggest that that we are more productive if we work a core 6 hours. People who are able to work flexibly are known to be healthier, happier, more productive and more motivated.
- Provide time to recharge (gaps between projects, sabbaticals…)
No one can be relentlessly creative. Taking breaks will give everyone time to recharge and refresh. Time outside, breaks from routine, travel and new experiences all boost creativity.
- Give the right challenges to the right employees
The relationship between how challenging an employee finds a task and innovation performance is not a linear one. People’s innovation output doesn’t simply increase as the challenge increases.
The Yerkes-Dodson law dictates that performance increases with physiological or mental stimulation, but only up to a point. When levels of stimulation become too high, performance decreases.
The challenge is to find the right balance. This involves working on projects that are demanding, but also offer a good match between an employee’s skills and the resources they have available to solve the challenge, such as the time they have to tackle it.
- Foster an environment of encouragement
Praise, notice, support and reward creativity.
- Stress the importance of creativity
Let your employees know that you want to hear their ideas no matter how unusual or ‘off the wall’ they might be.
Make sure they know that any innovation can help to keep your business competitive.
- Make time for creativity
Set time aside regularly for team creative thinking such as brainstorming, exploring, testing and refining ideas.
It is also worth giving individuals time on their own to reflect on their working methods.
- Actively search out ideas
Suggestion boxes and other suggestion methods for solving problems are a good idea.
- Train staff in creative techniques
Proper training in brainstorming, lateral thinking and mind-mapping could pay dividends.
If employees have wider experience this can spark ideas. Consider short-term job swaps or shadowing. Encourage your employees to think about how your business does things even in other departments and offices.
- Encourage employees to challenge working methods
Encourage your employees to keep looking with fresh eyes at the way they approach their work. Ask them whether they have considered other ways of working and what the business might achieve if it did things differently.
- Tolerate mistakes
If you want to encourage creative thinking you will have to take risks. Don’t penalise employees when ideas don’t work out as a result of creative thinking.
- Act on ideas
Creative thinking is only worthwhile if it results in action. Provide the time and resources to develop and implement ideas that are worth acting upon. Failure to do so not only means your business could fail to benefit from innovation, but the flow of ideas may well dry up if staff feel the process is pointless.